It has been nearly 4 months of speculation and hearsay regarding Paul George's impending free agency plans for 2018. Since the trade deadline in February, several media personalities have spoken of George's supposed desire to join the Los Angeles Lakers when he becomes a free agent in 2018. Now, Pacers fans' sense of dread is a reality.
Sunday afternoon, The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that George informed the organization that he intends to join the Lakers once his current contract is finished. George, a Palmdale, California native, is under contract through the 2017-18 season and has a player option for 2018 that he will decline. If George had made an All-NBA team either this season or next, he would have been eligible for the Designated Veteran Player Exception (the "Kevin Durant rule"), but all signs say that George intends to opt out regardless of his designation status.
Since the news of George's intent to depart for LA, other reports have surfaced that Indiana has begun searching for a trade partner that will essentially use George as a one-year rental, including Cleveland, Boston, and the Los Angeles Clippers.
A rental trade is really the only option for Indiana at this point. If George has made his intentions clear, Indiana has no chance in convincing him to stay with the Pacers regardless of any free agent acquisitions they might make to strengthen the team. Also, no other team that is currently building will trade any assets for George just to have him leave for LA after one season. George's long-term plan has essentially wrecked any trade value he had, and now the Pacers will be scrambling to acquire any assets they can so they will not come up completely empty once George leaves.
This news also comes less than four days removed from George telling Indianapolis media that his plan is "still the same" and he wants to win the first championship for Indiana. So much for that.
I have no problem with George exercising his right to join whichever team he wants. That has always been the definition of free agency.
But telling local media and fans that he "wants to win" and "be the first to bring a championship" to Indiana while actually wanting to be in a completely different location with a team that has averaged 23 wins over the past 4 years will leave an awful taste in the organization's and Pacers fans' mouths.
Indiana now finds themselves hamstrung before the draft and free agency with a superstar who doesn't want to play for them and whose trade value is diminishing by the minute. Freshly appointed general manager Kevin Pritchard has been given the most unenviable of first tasks in his new position.